New minister, same policy: MPs and campaigners demand review of ‘racist’ immigration approach

Caitlin Logan

Rudd’s resignation not the end of the story on immigration policy scandal, opposition parties and anti-racist campaigners say

THE PRESSURE on the UK Government to scrap its ‘hostile environment’ immigration policy has mounted following Amber Rudd’s resignation as home secretary.

Already replaced by Bromsgrove MP Sajid Javid, Rudd resigned late on Sunday night after a series of leaked documents contradicted her own statements regarding the Windrush crisis and the existence of deportation targets.

The reason provided for Rudd’s resignation was that she inadvertently misled parliament through statements which were revealed to be inaccurate, while the government has denied any suggestion that the policy itself was at fault. 

However, cross-party MPs and campaigners have said that nothing short of an overhaul of the ‘hostile environment’ policy will address the heart of the issue. The approach – branded following a promise from then home secretary Theresa May to create “a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants” – was introduced through the Immigration Acts of 2014 and 2016.

READ MORE: Overhaul of UK’s ‘anti-human’ immigration policy can’t stop at Windrush generation, say migrant rights advocates

Under the legislation, employers, landlords, and staff in the NHS, education, banking and other services are required to check people’s immigration status and deny access to those without the legal right to remain in the UK. 

The SNP has called for this approach and the UK Government’s net migration targets to be scrapped, with the party’s justice and home affairs spokesperson Joanna Cherry insisting that Rudd’s resignation “should not be an end of the matter”.

“The UK Government’s immigration policy is rotten to the core – the Prime Minister must review the 2014 and 2016 Immigration Acts,” Cherry said. “The Tory net migration targets introduced are neither practicable nor workable and the Windrush scandal is a direct result of the Home Office’s increasingly frantic attempts to meet those targets.”

Calling for a “root and branch review” of UK immigration policy, Cherry said: “The Windrush scandal has simply lifted the veil on the callous and rotten nature of the system created under Theresa May’s watch.

“The injustices visited upon the Windrush generation are no mistake. Home office officials have merely been implementing orders from the top to make life as unpleasant as possible for people identified as soft targets.”

READ MORE: SNP MP pressures Amber Rudd to resign amid revelations of deportation targets she denied existed

Arguing that UK immigration policy is “failing Scotland”, Cherry added that immigration powers should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament to enable the creation of “ a fair system that works for Scotland and the specific needs of our economy”.

Labour’s shadow home secretary Diane Abbot has called for an investigation into “who knew what and when about targets for removals”, and Labour MP David Lammy has spoken out on the need for a review of the ‘hostile environment’ policy as a whole.

Commenting on Rudd’s resignation, Lammy said: “The campaign for justice on behalf of the Windrush generation is not just about political scalps. At its heart this crisis is about a system that was allowed to dehumanise and victimise Windrush British citizens.

“The resignation of the Home Secretary must not detract from the fact that this crisis was a direct result of the hostile environment policy.

“That policy must now be reviewed, and the Home Office must move quickly to compensate and grant citizenship to the Windrush generation.”

READ MORE: Former civil servant head – Ministers considered Tory immigration policy to be ‘reminiscent of Nazi Germany’

These calls have been welcomed by anti-racist and migrant rights campaigners, who say that systemic change is essential.

“It’s not enough changing the minister, you need to change the whole policy and mind-set that led to all this,” said Nazek Ramadan, director of Migrant Voice.

The issue, Ramadan stressed, was “not only about the scandalous treatment of one group” but rather a wider trend in the treatment of other migrants. “They, too, have been locked up, wrongly deported, denied healthcare and, in some cases, physically and verbally abused,” she said.

“To get us out of this mess the government must scrap the net migration cap – this unachievable target led to the irrational implementation of the hostile environment, which has meant outsourcing immigration controls to the public and turning people against each other. 

“Those who pay the price are overwhelmingly people who don’t look or sound White British, but the sinister consequences of the policy are now affecting the whole of society.

“Instead of draconian policies, the government must shift its entire approach to immigration, including regularising undocumented migrants.”

READ MORE: Empire racism: Children of Caribbean migrants say Windrush crisis exposes state bigotry of past and present

Ramadan added that the policy had fostered “xenophobia and injustice, racism and hate crime” and said that, as well as an overhaul of all immigration policies, the government needed a “change of attitude from viewing migration as a problem and as a short-sighted vote-catching tactic”.

On Monday [30 April] morning, campaigners from Global Justice Now protested outside the Home Office in Westminster, presenting banners stating “end the hostile environment” and “no human is illegal”. Aisha Dodwell of Global Justice Now said that the root cause of the Windrush crisis had been the “prime minister’s choice” to create the hostile environment policy, and said the policy was being used “to weaponise all parts of society against immigrants”.

Also on Monday, community groups, trade union leaders and anti-racist campaigners are set to be joined by MPs and MEPs in Parliament Square where they will call on Theresa May to reverse the ‘hostile environment’ policy.

Weyman Bennett, Stand Up To Racism Co-Convenor explained: “My family came with the Windrush. They worked all their lives in the NHS and in public services, only for their generation to be treated with disgraceful inhumanity.

“Now Theresa May must take responsibility for the policies that she put in when she was Home Secretary. The hostile environment was a racist policy started in 2012 and it has to go.”

Picture courtesy of Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Govt

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